MINNEAPOLIS — Speaking softly and tearing up, Nicki Lenway recounted the moment in April she was shot as she walked up to FamilyWise, a supervised parenting center on University Avenue in Minneapolis to pick up her 5-year-old son.
"I heard someone running behind me and I heard gunshots. I fell to the ground, and they stood over me and continued to shoot," Lenway testified, telling the jury she could tell the shooter was a woman.
Colleen Larson, 24, is charged with first-degree attempted murder. She was a former taekwondo student of Tim Amacher, 41, Lenway's ex-boyfriend. Amacher is on trial for the same crime, accused of aiding Larson in attempted murder.
Larson moved in with Amacher when she turned 18; the two were dating at the time of the shooting.
Amacher was inside FamilyWise having a court-ordered supervised visit with the son he and Lenway share while the shots were fired.
Surveillance video that prosecutors played in court earlier in the trial shows Lenway exiting her car and walking down a sidewalk. Then, a slender figure in a black hooded jacket runs up behind Lenway, pulls out a gun, and the shooting occurs off-camera.
A camera view from farther away shows Lenway falling to the ground and then getting up, while the shooter continues running toward Lenway before retreating. Finally, surveillance video from the front of FamilyWise shows Lenway holding her neck as she tries to get into the building.
“And they wouldn’t let me in. I found out later they were on lockdown,” Lenway testified. "Then I tried to call 911. They couldn't understand what I was trying to say. I tried to tell them where I was and what was happening. At that point, I realized I was shot because I couldn't talk."
Lenway was helped by a passerby who let her into her car and finished the 911 call for Lenway.
Taking the witness stand, Lenway was fully healed and able to speak. But she showed the jury the permanent scars to her neck and forearm from bullet wounds and said she is no longer able to sing.
Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton built up to the story of the shooting by asking Lenway to detail how she met Amacher at his taekwondo and workout studio, how they started dating in 2012, broke up and initially tried to co-parent their child.
Lenway testified about one incident where she said Amacher pinned her against the wall by her neck and another where she said she tried leaving his house and he pulled her back inside by her hair.
After they broke up and Lenway gave birth to their son, Lenway said their tumultuous interactions continued.
“He essentially told me if I didn’t change my mind about reconciling, he would ruin my reputation, do what he could to take [my son] from me, try to lose my job so I wouldn’t have my career. And that he would take me to court to take [my son],” Lenway testified.
After Lenway started dating Minneapolis police officer Donovan Ford, she said Amacher began making false accusations of child abuse against her and Ford. Those allegations against Ford continued even after he moved to Colorado for one year and wasn’t even in contact with the child, Lenway testified.
Ford was the first and only officer that Lenway dated, she testified, and in October the couple was married.
A year into their relationship, in June 2018, Lenway’s garage door was vandalized with a vulgar phrase regarding her dating cops. She testified that she didn’t talk to Amacher about it and opened the garage door so it wouldn’t be visible when he came over to pick up their son. But Amacher went out to the detached garage and closed the door as if to reveal it to himself, then berated Lenway about how her relationship with Ford was putting their son in danger, she testified.
Lenway told the jury that Amacher filed for custody of their son from Las Vegas in August 2018 after she refused to go with him on that trip, the last of many attempts he made to win her back.
From there, Amacher’s accusations of child abuse began. Child protection workers visited Lenway’s house “12-15 times” based on complaints made by Amacher, Lenway estimated. He filed numerous police reports in Saint Paul, Mendota Heights and Burnsville.
Those reports were all deemed to be unfounded. But one allegation of domestic abuse went all the way to trial. Amacher accused Lenway of running over his foot after exchanging their son. A jury listened to the case and acquitted Lenway “in about five minutes,” she said. Then the judge agreed to expunge Lenway’s record.
Finally, in November 2020, a custody trial took place. Colleen Larson testified on Amacher’s behalf, claiming she saw signs of abuse. But the judge granted full custody to Lenway, allowing Amacher just one supervised visit per week.
That changed in January 2022 when Amacher was finally granted unsupervised parenting time. But after the first overnight visit, Amacher made another abuse allegation to Burnsville PD.
The 5-year-old then told a social worker that his dad coached him on what to say and that the abuse never happened. Judge Shereen Askalani ruled that prosecutors can show the jury that statement and the boy will not need to testify.
In it, when asked by the social worker why his dad wanted him to say those things about Lenway’s boyfriend, the child responded, “To get him out of the house.”
Before Amacher could have a second unsupervised visit with his son in early 2022, the judge revoked those privileges, allowed one supervised visit per week at FamilyWise, and ordered Amacher to pay for the visits in full.
The shooting happened two months later.
In closing his questioning of Lenway, Lofton asked, “Do you have any idea of anyone who had any reason to shoot you besides the defendant and Colleen Larson?”
Amacher’s attorney Larry Reed objected and Judge Askalani sustained, but the point was made.
In his cross-examination of Lenway, Reed spent a lot of time focusing on her role in investigating the 2015 Minneapolis police shooting of Jamar Clark. During the trial, it was revealed that Amacher made an internal affairs report to MPD claiming that Lenway had tampered with evidence in the Clark case.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the two MPD officers involved in the shooting, partly because Clark's DNA was found on the gun belonging to one of the officers. The officer said Clark was trying to get his gun as they struggled on the ground.
Reed insinuated that Lenway indeed tampered with evidence and that it somehow is related to her being shot nearly seven years later while picking up her son.
Lofton addressed the issue in redirect questioning.
"Your work doesn't even involve DNA?" Lofton asked.
"No," Lenway answered.
“Did you tamper with evidence?” Lofton asked.
“No,” Lenway said.
“How does it feel to be accused of that in a public courtroom?” Lofton asked.
“It’s embarrassing. My career – I worked really hard to get, and he’s trying to undermine my future and harass and hurt me,” Lenway responded.
“Do internal affairs investigate a lot of B.S. complaints?” Lofton asked before being cut off by an objection by Reed.
Amacher’s trial is expected to last at least the rest of the week and possibly even beyond Thanksgiving. There is no indication yet whether Larson will testify, as there could be issues involving her Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. However, she is on the prosecution’s witness list.
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